Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body.

Scientists estimate that around 4 million adults in the United States have fibromyalgia. Women are twice as likely to have fibromyalgia as men. Children can have fibromyalgia, but it is more common in older adults.

When fibromyalgia pains flare up, every activity can seem more difficult. All people experience flares differently, and there can be different triggers depending on the person.

This article discusses the symptoms of fibromyalgia flares, their causes, and how to manage them.

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Some people with fibromyalgia may experience certain symptoms regularly. However, the pain associated with fibromyalgia tends to fluctuate and worsen.

When symptoms temporarily increase in number or intensity, it is called a flare or flare-up. A flare-up can last anywhere from a few days to weeks.

The main symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain. People may also experience stiffness and tenderness of the muscles, tendons, and joints. The individual symptoms differ from one person to another. Symptoms can vary in intensity and come and go.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia may include:

  • pain throughout the body, particularly in the back or neck
  • extreme sensitivity to touch, light, smoke, and certain foods
  • stiffness when staying in the same position for long periods
  • muscles spasms
  • extreme tiredness
  • poor quality sleep
  • fatigue
  • trouble with memory and concentration referred to as “fibro fog”
  • slow or confused speech
  • frequent headaches or migraines
  • irritable bowel syndrome

Someone with fibromyalgia may sometimes experience clumsiness, dizzy spells, feeling too hot or cold, painful periods, restless legs syndrome, and numbness or tingling in hands and feet.

Daily pain and sleep deprivation can cause problems at home and work. The stress of coping with a condition can also lead to anxiety and depression.

Flare-ups can happen without warning but often have noticeable triggers.

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. However, changes in brain chemical levels and central nervous system function may play a role.

Periods of physical or emotional stress are common triggers for fibromyalgia. This may include:

Other factors may trigger a fibromyalgia flare-up, including:

People are at more risk of fibromyalgia if they have a rheumatic disease. Rheumatic diseases affect the bones, muscles, and joints. They include:

Visit our dedicated arthritis hub here.

Although some triggers for fibromyalgia are beyond a person’s control, managing modifiable risk factors can help to prevent flare ups.

Reducing the risk of flare ups and practicing self care can improve symptoms and overall quality of life.

Below are several lifestyle changes and tips that may help relieve symptoms and make fibromyalgia easier to live with daily.

Keeping a log of triggers

Triggers for fibromyalgia vary from person to person. Maintaining a log of activities, meals, sleep times and duration, and symptoms of fibromyalgia may help to identify particular triggers.

Recording these activities might highlight patterns of what triggers a flare. This might help a person with fibromyalgia find out how to better manage or avoid those triggers.

Reducing stress and relaxing

Stress makes symptoms of fibromyalgia worse. Many people with fibromyalgia experience stress and feelings of depression, anxiety, and frustration. People may benefit from trying to avoid or limit exposure to stressful situations and making time to relax.

While techniques such as meditation or deep breathing may help manage stress, it is important that people with fibromyalgia do not avoid physical activity altogether. People with fibromyalgia who quit work or stop exercising do not do as well as those that stay active.

Options to assist with stress management are available and include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, and feedback from qualified health professionals.

Exercising regularly

Regular physical activity can often improve symptoms of fibromyalgia. Although exercise may increase pain at first, it may help prevent pain over time.

Activities that may help people with fibromyalgia include walking, biking, swimming, and water aerobics. Maintaining good posture habits, stretching, and relaxation exercises may also help.

People with fibromyalgia begin with gentle exercises, such as walking and build up endurance and intensity slowly.

Resistance and strengthening exercises may improve muscle strength, physical disability, depression, and quality of life. They can also improve tiredness and boost mood in people with fibromyalgia.

Learn more about the best exercises for fibromyalgia here.

Getting enough sleep

Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia. It is essential that people with fibromyalgia get enough sleep.

Sleep hygiene practices that may help include going to bed and getting up at the same time every day and limiting napping during the day. Other helpful practices include:

  • limiting screen time before bed
  • limiting caffeine intake
  • ensuring the sleep environment is dark and quiet
  • avoiding eating large meals late in the evening

Learn more about the importance of sleep in our dedicated hub.

Not doing too much

While regular physical activity is recommended to help manage fibromyalgia symptoms, it is crucial to limit overexertion and not to do too much.

Moderation is the key. If a person with fibromyalgia does too much on days where their symptoms are good, they may end up having more bad days. However, on bad days, individuals should still try to be as active as they can. Keeping activity levels as even as possible provides the best outcome.

Diet

Although there is no specific diet recommended for people with fibromyalgia, there are certain foods that appear to make fibromyalgia symptoms worse.

Try an elimination diet, in which you exclude certain food groups each week to see if symptoms improve. If symptoms get better after ruling out a certain type of food, they may well be connected to fibromyalgia symptoms.

Studies show that Mediterranean, vegetarian, low gluten, and low FODMAP diets may all help manage fibromyalgia symptoms.

Maintaining proper nutrition will help boost energy levels and help avoid other health problems.

Learn more about which foods to limit or prioritize to manage fibromyalgia here.

Fibromyalgia and Social Security

Many people with fibromyalgia find themselves unable to work or resume a normal standard of living.

For such people, Social Security rulings in the United States dictate that so long as a medical or osteopathic doctor can determine that the disease causes medically determinable impairment (MDI), the condition will qualify as a disability for Social Security payments.

This means that a doctor should be able to confirm:

  • a history of widespread pain
  • a minimum of 11 tender points following examination
  • repeated instances of at least six fibromyalgia symptoms
  • no other conditions are causing the pain

The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires medical documentation dating back 12 months related to the disease and may conduct interviews with relatives, friends, neighbors, and past employers to confirm the diagnosis.

In some cases, the SSA may fund a consultation to confirm the debilitating nature of the disease.

Treating fibromyalgia flares can be tricky. Preventing a flare from developing in the first place is less complicated than treating a flare.

Fibromyalgia has several symptoms, which means that no one treatment will fix them all. Also, a treatment that works for one person may not work for another.

Treatment plans will often combine medication and lifestyle changes.

Medications that may help reduce fibromyalgia pain and improve sleep include:

  • antidepressants
  • anti-seizure drugs
  • naltrexone, which is an anti-opioid medication, may be helpful

Talking therapies such as CBT aim to alter the way a person thinks about things and may help tackle fibromyalgia in a more positive way. Psychotherapy can also help someone with fibromyalgia help understand and deal with their thoughts and feelings.

Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and aromatherapy may also help with relaxation and stress.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia. However, medication and lifestyle changes can help treat fibromyalgia and reduce the likelihood of flares. Fibromyalgia is a condition that can be managed, and people with the disorder can live a full life.

Participating in regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to avoid fibromyalgia flares and manage pain.

Fibromyalgia can cause widespread pain, fatigue, and stiffness. Symptoms tend to occur in periods of flares.

Physical and emotional stress are the most common triggers of fibromyalgia flares. Other triggers include lack of sleep, weather changes, and hormone imbalances.